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Donald Trump’s historic mistake: US reneges on Paris climate change agreement
June 3, 2017, 7:10 pm
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On Thursday, June 1, US President Donald Trump finally announced his intent to withdraw from the international Paris Agreement on climate change, which the United States had signed, ratified and agreed to implement in November 2016.

By reneging on the landmark international commitment designed to combat global warming, the US has become an outcast among the international community and in the eyes of some a ‘rogue state’. It now joins the exalted ranks of just two other nations that failed to sign the climate treaty — Nicaragua and Syria.

At least, those two countries failed to sign up, not because they denied climate change or believed they would not be affected by it, or thought they were somehow separate from the rest of the world. Nicaragua took a principled stand saying the accord failed to punish those who did not live up to the pledged commitments and it also wanted rich countries to pay more for climate change, as they were historically responsible for causing more damage to the environment.  Syria, on the other hand, was effectively an international pariah state and in the height of internal conflict at the time of the Paris accord, as such it was in no position to commit to limiting its climate emissions.

The American decision on the other hand is purely political and stems from the US President’s isolationist beliefs. In the run up to the presidential elections, Mr. Trump had vowed to pull the US out of the Paris climate deal, claiming that the agreement was unfair to the US. Characterizing the Paris agreement as a deal that aimed to hobble, disadvantage and impoverish the United States, the president said that it cost the US$3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million jobs. These unsubstantiated, out-of-the-toupee figures were immediately challenged by many democrats and by environmentalists.

The fact is the US renewable energy and efficiency is booming, with some three million jobs created in these industries, far outstripping jobs in fossil energy. The solar and wind industries are creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the US economy. The price of energy from renewables has plummeted, making it more affordable to home owners and businesses.

Obviously, the  country that will be hurt the most by withdrawing from the climate pact is the United States. This move will make it tougher for the Trump administration to execute its international priorities and undermine its global standing. It will be harder for US businesses to compete in the booming clean energy marketplace that the Paris Agreement accelerated.

Equally as important, rejecting the nation's climate targets will make America less competitive in the global clean energy market. The combined commitments of countries under Paris have helped contribute to a $23 trillion opportunity in climate-smart investments between now and 2030. Under such a scenario, it is only the president and his coterie who seem to understand the mathematics behind supporting fossil fuels and aborting the climate agreement.

Whatever the reasons for his decision, the US cannot just pull on its boots and walk out of the agreement. As per the terms of the climate change agreement, the US cannot submit its withdrawal until November 2019, and it would not formally be out for at least a year after that. Alternatively, the US could pull out of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change altogether, which would take only about one year. And, in the meantime, the US could simply ignore the commitment made by President Obama last year, as there are no clear legal repercussions for doing so.

President Trump has already backpedalled on many of the climate change curbing legislations introduced by his predecessor Barack Obama. In late March, he signed the Energy Independence Executive Order, saying it would put an end to "war on coal" and "job-killing regulations". The new executive order will impose less restrictive rules on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and more freedom to sell coal leases from federal lands. In another move, the president recently appointed climate change skeptic Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Natural gas and coal account for an equal share of the 66 percent of energy supplied for electricity generation in the United States; nuclear power provides 20 percent, other renewables account for 7 percent, hydropower for 6 percent, petroleum 1 percent and other gases less than 1 percent.

In the wake of the latest US decision, China, the EU and India, which along with the US make up the four biggest emitters of carbon dioxide, have reiterated their commitment to the climate change accord. Though President Trump indicated he was open to another climate deal "on terms that are fair to the United States", the leaders of France, Germany and Italy quickly snubbed him, issuing a joint statement rejecting any re-negotiation.

Another good news is that the majority of Americans and many major American businesses do not support the president’s decision. The Democratic governors of New York, California and Washington states all quickly vowed to respect the terms of the Paris deal, as did more than 600 business, big and small, which together account for more than $1 trillion in annual sales and nearly two million employees.

Disney's chief executive Robert Iger and the entrepreneur Elon Musk both resigned from White House advisory councils in opposition to the decision. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted that the US can still meet its commitments to fight climate change, despite President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris accord. He argued this could be done "through partnerships among cities, states and businesses", saying Americans would not let Washington stand in their way."

US environmentalists, who were taken aghast by the president’s decision, said they would challenge it in the courts. These actions are an assault on American values and they endanger the health, safety and prosperity of every American, they said.

It is doubtful if the US president is even aware that his promises of reviving the economy and making ‘America Great Again’, actually hinges on curbing climate change. Repeatedly mouthing the word ‘Great’ or ‘Good’ has made no man or country great or good.

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